BrainTrust Query: Marketing Research Transformation is Not an Option

Mar 22, 2010

Commentary by Joel
, Chief Research Officer, The Advertising Research Foundation

Through a special arrangement,
presented here for discussion is an excerpt from a current article from
the Joel Rubinson on Marketing Research Consulting blog.

On Tuesday, March 23rd, Stan Stanunathan,
vice president, marketing strategy and insights for The Coca-Cola Company
will deliver the message that “research transformation is not an option”
at ARF 2010 Re:think and talk about how Coca-Cola is changing their insights
approach globally.

I will then moderate a panel of other leaders,
Gayle Fuguitt vice president, consumer insights, General Mills; John Forsyth
principal, McKinsey & Company, Inc.; and Susan Wagner VP, strategy & insights,
Johnson & Johnson, who will demonstrate that Stan is not alone — other
leaders also believe the time is now.

Research transformation isn’t just about
changing a department; it’s about being an agent of change for the culture
and beliefs of the whole marketing organization:

  1. Stop thinking of people as consumers
    and start thinking of them as humans.
    word “consumer” is marketing-ese for slicing off that part of daily
    living that relates to what you can sell someone and throwing away
    the rest. That keeps you thinking in the box. Mr. Stanunathan, from
    Coke said, “When you study consumers you get incremental ideas; when
    you study humans you get breakthroughs.”
  2. Move from a control mentality to an
    influence approach.
    teams no longer control brand messaging thanks to the web-based social
    media infrastructure. Ask Motrin, or now Toyota. Research departments
    no longer control the flow of information about consumers. Marketing
    teams can search Twitter, or go to digital analytics, or … Are you
    ready to do what Vitamin Water did, where they let their fan base in
    Facebook design the next new flavor? Are you ready to let go?
  3. Think of research as a source of anticipatory
    insights rather than just testing and measuring
    . The
    risk reduction and measurement parts of what research does are important
    but those are downstream activities. The insights team needs to be
    thought of as an insights engine that builds strong brands and durable
    customer relationships. Do more than quantify the expected; also
    listen for the unexpected, bringing breakthrough ideas that inform
    strategy. If the insights team is thought of this way it will be brought
    into business issues at the start and regarded as an investment
    in the future of the business, rather than just an expense to be managed
    down over time.

What a different corporate environment! Creating
a fast learning organization where ideas can come from anywhere and where
every test has a learning objective not just an action standard! A way
of working together where the insights team is integrated into business
leadership teams, where we are part of and potentially lead the social
media cross-functional teams, and where the voice of the human is brought
by research into every marketing decision.

This is our time, but with it comes the responsibility
to up our game, to become leaders rather than just technicians and analysts,
and to leverage what we know about humans (cognitive science, behavioral
economics, anthropology) to bring insights that shape the strategic glide
path of the organization.

Discussion Questions:
In what ways do you think the culture and thought process around market
research needs to be changed? What do you think of the transformation
ideas offered in the article?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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15 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Marketing Research Transformation is Not an Option"

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Dr. Stephen Needel
12 years 1 month ago

Marketing researchers have been wringing their hands and trying to figure out their role in life as long as I’ve been in this business (30 years in June). The tendency to put the blame elsewhere has always been with us (“they never pay attention to what we say” is an oft-heard complaint). Good researchers always get heard, despite the corporate culture. That doesn’t mean that the culture couldn’t do with some changes, but it also means researchers need to be better at understanding research and understanding business. And companies need to seek out those people who do get both sides.

Stan’s points and Joel’s comments are perfectly valid, but responsibility rests with the researchers as well as the organizations.

Anne Howe
12 years 1 month ago

I absolutely agree with all points made here. Conversations are vital with humans, they lead to levels of understanding that are no longer optional. Without understanding humans in a broader context, there are no forward innovation insights. Humans converge actions, emotions and thoughts without regard to the marketing communications wheels we practice in every day. An updated framework is long overdue and should be welcomed in all facets of the marketing/management disciplines.

Joan Treistman
12 years 1 month ago
There is much in Joel’s article with which I agree. Surely there are more effective strategic opportunities that come from a broader view of society, not limited to category consumers. On the other hand, I am not certain that it’s appropriate to paint the world of marketing and research with a broad brush and suggest the need for transformation. Implicit in the article is the need for companies to review how well research in their organization supports their mission. That’s common sense. Given the changes in society regarding media, spending habits and life styles we should reconsider how research can be made more productive for the company’s purpose. The companies in Joel’s article are extremely large…in terms of revenue and products and global prominence. Each marketer has to consider the best way forward within that company’s context and structure. And that may not be the same for a smaller company as it is for a Coke, General Mills or J&J. Each of these organizations has a unique business model and profit objective. If they are… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
12 years 1 month ago
I find it amazing that it’s taken this long to arrive at these “insights.” For over a decade I’ve written and spoken on the need to blow up conventional market research. It’s bankrupt and has been for quite some time. Now, as to the specific insights. People are humans who can’t be controlled by messaging. How radical! How insightful! How pretentious! Is it really possible that we need to publicly concede that people are not the little programmable robots marketers have pretended they were since the days when the men in gray flannel suits hoisted their third martinis? If that’s true, shame on us. The challenge facing modern marketers is that the world has gotten too complex and possibly too irrational to be predictable. This isn’t the time for taking a progressively evolutionary approach to marketing theory, (like admitting people are holistic entities rather than blank canvases awaiting only the marketer’s bold brush strokes to complete). It is instead a time to call for a revolution in marketing theory–one more informed by anthropology, ethnography and… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
12 years 1 month ago

Consumers ARE humans. We just have a problem calling them human. Not sure that name change or the idea of that difference will drive a new market research culture. We all look for behavior trends. We try to anticipate the market evolution, based upon the past. This is fundamentally inaccurate. Who predicted the onslaught of social media in 2000? No one. Nothing in the past directed us to this new reality.

Whether we call them consumers, humans or whatever, we need to utilize tools and technologies available today to gain deeper insights, analyze those traits and determine proactively the potential solutions that fill and demand gaps…like social media has in many ways. I don’t believe available tools are being used to their potential, yet.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
12 years 1 month ago

The name is less important than the importance of changing marketing research. Traditional research is designed for using large samples to represent the population being studied. Traditional research is grounded in demographics because that is the way media is purchased. Those statements do not match with the reality of consumers/humans when making decisions.

In today’s market, “consumers” means personalization and customization, so predicting the responses of large samples is not helpful. In today’s market, many consumers do not use traditional media. In today’s market, consumers are in different groups depending upon the issue.

Marketing research needs to provide deep insight regarding your current consumers, especially the 20% who generate 80% of your sales.

Ian Percy
12 years 1 month ago
I had a ‘discussion’ the other day where my position was that the distinction between B2B and B2C marketing was purely artificial–that consultants just made that complexity up so they’d have another product line. ALL business is H2H. No matter what you’re marketing, at the other end of your initiative is someone wondering if their Toyota is OK and whose kid wants a snowboard like Shaun White’s. Pretty well all of life is learning how to live and work human to human. I’m with Ryan, this “insight” is right in our faces. “Re-search”–indeed all data–is about yesterday. Too much of typical research is an effort to get us caught up to the present. Wouldn’t it be better, to be ahead of the curve, to see opportunities others can’t see? While it’s quoted far too often, Henry Ford’s comment still fits: if he’d done “consumer research” they’d have asked for a faster horse. Finally this observation. The world has little patience for change these days. It’s transform or fade into irrelevancy. But it’s not “transformation” if… Read more »
Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
12 years 1 month ago

I’m with Ryan and Ian and there are a couple of other factors that marketers will have to accept…

1. We’re coming out of a prolonged period of relatively consistent and homogeneous demand, where it was easier to classify customers as “segments” rather than individuals. In fact, if you even got your research half-right, you’d probably be OK, given the sheer growth in the marketplace. The market is now a myriad of niche needs, preferences and individual tastes. This will be confirmed when the 2010 census data gets unpacked.

2. Social media not only allows for a more granular approach to market research, where we can literally go to the conversation level, but it also allows consumers to organize a revolt against companies who fail to truly anticipate and understand their unique needs.

James Tenser
12 years 1 month ago

Yes Joel, I agree that tradition-steeped market researchers too often answer questions of questionable relevance with pointless precision.

Consumer, shopper, buyer, customer, influencer, whatever–humans shift roles and goals from moment to moment throughout their lives. Every trip has a different mission; every household has multiple need states.

Trouble is, every brand has one positioning. Every message passes through a single channel.

Market research has traditionally focused on evaluating or predicting the effectiveness of each message, while holding other variables constant. Humans are chief among those variables, as Joel astutely observes.

I favor what I call the “loose-tight grip” when it comes to marketing. Over-emphasis on control leads to stagnation; while failure to monitor and influence public perceptions of the brand leads to loss of clarity.

Gary Edwards, PhD
Gary Edwards, PhD
12 years 1 month ago

Market research needs to be transformed in several ways. First, individuals making key business decisions at all levels and across all departments should be engaging in evidence-based decisions that are based on a combination of available historical data plus primary research. To do so, the expertise of conducting primary research should not reside only in one specialty department, but rather form part of the curriculum and training of all key decision makers.

Second, it’s important to implement toolsets for listening and responding to customers. The supplier relationship may sit within a Market Research department, but Customer Experience Management program are often best run by Operations or others directly involved in the flow of information and daily decision making.

Lastly, “on-the-fly” insights, delivered via CRM platforms, should be directed to the right decision makers–and at the right time. To allow for this, reporting and business intelligence capabilities should be an area of focus. Without it, there is little foundation to identify weaknesses and measure growth.

Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
12 years 1 month ago
Someone has said that the poorest view of the world is from behind your desk. Research has for too long been readily organized, executed and analyzed as rows and columns. This also relates to the discussion about the incognito CEO in another thread at RW today. Joel is suggesting a major advance here in moving from “consumers” to “people.” I’ve referred to this under the rubric of “holistic” research. A lot of research has been conducted using what could be called “Picasso” research. That’s because the content of the resulting picture is sometimes as much an expression of the mind of the artist/researcher as it is of the world. Referring to people as “consumers” is automatically creating a face in profile with both eyes on the same side (Picasso.) “Photographic” research is a lot less judgmental, simply capturing the image of the world as it actually appears. This requires allowing all apparent data to create the picture, rather than selectively predefining what features deserve emphasis. It requires a lot more mental bandwidth and processing power… Read more »
Joel Rubinson
12 years 1 month ago

I am very encouraged by the comments on this discussion topic. First, there is enough diversity of response (support, challenge, radical, nothing new…etc.) to believe that this topic is controversial…good!!

Let me reinforce–brands are belief systems (Primal Branding) and the “brand of research” cannot change without the organization’s belief system changing. This transformation MUST be bigger than research; it is about the whole organization.

Peter Martin
Peter Martin
12 years 1 month ago

Great, I am in the minority…so far.

I would have gone for No. 1, but figured that if, by now, folks hadn’t made the connection between real life people and demographic box ticks then it’s all rather moot.

As one pitching a design that seems to be getting responses along the lines of ‘It’s very interesting, but what consumer research do you have to back it up? (I often wonder if that is more ‘so I don’t look silly if I take it up the gatekeeper chain and/or have a get-out in case it bombs’) I was kind of keen to see moves more away from quantitative number crunching to more qualitative senses of mood to encourage mold-breaking innovation.

Guessing not yet.

But good to see it being talked about.

kent kirschner
kent kirschner
12 years 1 month ago

This is a compelling discussion with very relevant commentary from all participants. At the end of the day, there is validity in each point but we all remain somewhat adrift in how to pull tactical direction from the overriding conversation. We know the world is changing at lightning speed; we know our methods and modes must evolve in anticipation of what is coming and in response to what has happened. But we get lost sometimes in the process. I discovered this excellent roadmap on slideshare and would recommend it to all those that are invested in this conversation.

Keep up the earnestness! We are demonstrating how powerful and how quotidian social media has become in our own daily lives.

Phil Rubin
Phil Rubin
12 years 1 month ago

This is a great start of what could be a long-sustained discussion on marketing and the role of research. It also mixes in some shifts in marketing as a whole that (should) extend beyond research.

A couple of comments on the points above:

1. Consumers are really customers and customers are people. That said, not all people are customers, though some are prospects.

2. Moving from control to influence is appropriate but moving from influence to engagement and then dialogue is better. Customer relationships should involve listening and learning and this usually only comes about via engagement.

3. The value of research (which we assume here also refers to customer behavior analysis) is absolutely rooted in insights and the ability to quantify not only what customers might do in response to different stimuli but also in understanding the “why.” It’s this knowledge that is most valuable in terms of driving a business forward.


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